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D.C. officials take steps to make streets safer after recent traffic deaths and activist outcry

Lawmakers and transportation planners are floating short- and long-term fixes for dangerous roads

A pedestrian crosses a street in downtown D.C.
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Since Friday, two people have died because of car collisions in the District: 54-year-old Dave Salovesh, an outspoken local bike advocate who was cycling along Florida Avenue NE when a driver fatally struck him, and 31-year old Abdul Seck, a Bronx, New York resident who is said to have been visiting D.C. for Easter when he was hit by a vehicle, while walking in Anacostia.

Community activists soon sprung into action following their deaths, setting up a “ghost bike” in Salovesh’s memory and organizing a rally in Seck’s. The District has now seen eight traffic fatalities in 2019—just one less than there were by this stage last year—and officials on both the executive and legislative sides of the city government are pursuing safety improvements.

Yesterday, District Department of Transportation chief (DDOT) Jeff Marootian told WAMU that his agency may install concrete barriers on Florida Avenue NE to expand safe space for pedestrians and cyclists and reduce vehicular lanes. DDOT staff visited the area near where Salovesh was killed and are weighing other short-term fixes while a planned redesign of the road remains pending. Currently, construction on the project is scheduled to begin in 2021.

DDOT also says it is “immediately” maneuvering to install an all-way stop and speed humps at the Anacostia intersection near where Seck was killed. And, in reacting to the deaths, D.C. lawmakers introduced a pair of bills Tuesday that they say are meant to produce safer streets.

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen pitched emergency legislation to encourage DDOT to complete its redesign of Florida Avenue NE as quickly as possible. The plans for the redesign, covering the avenue from Second to H streets NE, originated in 2009 and have not been fully implemented, despite prior traffic fatalities there. Allen’s bill would require DDOT to receive Council approval whenever the agency wants to shift around its capital funds—for as long as the Florida Avenue project is unfinished. The entire D.C. Council initially supported the bill.

“Florida Avenue has been defined by delay,” Allen noted during a Council meeting Tuesday. He added that traffic deaths have risen over the past four years in the District, even though D.C. officials have sought to implement the Vision Zero initiative to eradicate such fatalties.

Additionally, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh—the chair of the Council’s committee on transportation and the environment—proposed a bill that would require DDOT to build a protected bike lane or cycle track anytime it repairs or reconstructs a road included in the “Recommended Bicycle Network” in the city’s long-term transportation plan, known as MoveDC. Cheh said the bill is based on an approach that Cambridge, Massachusetts, is taking. All but one councilmember (Ward 8’s Trayon White) preliminarily supported it.

In a statement, Marootian, DDOT’s director, said his department is reviewing the legislation and that the mayor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 “fully funds” the Florida Avenue NE redesign. “We call on the Council to support this project as well as funding for enhanced [traffic] enforcement and initiatives like free [D.C.] Circulator [service] to get more residents to utilize transit,” he said. The Council is mulling the budget; the fiscal year begins October 1.

Both Cheh and Allen promised more-comprehensive road safety legislation, to be named after Salovesh, to come. Ward 1’s Brianne Nadeau also sent a letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser this week backing a myriad of transportation changes focused on non-car transit.